• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Thursday, October 06, 2005

    Genesis Films

    This is an article I wrote for the Open Heaven Church website back in the days before this blog really existed. It's likely that the article will disappear from that site shortly, so I thought I ought to repost it before it disappeared forever.
    Noah's Ark 1928
    Of all the events narrated in the Bible, perhaps the hardest to picture, let alone understand, are those in Genesis. Whilst there have been several attempts by filmmakers to capture these formative events on celluloid, their most productive time was actually back in the silent period. The most comprehensive lists cite around 20 films on the various stories made during the silent period, and a further six in the first 10 years of the “talkie” period. By contrast, the past 70 years have only produced a similar number.

    The first film made about a story in Genesis was the French film Joseph Vendu Par Ses Frères (Joseph Sold by his Brothers) made in 1904. Other notable films in this early period included 1928 silent version of Noah’s Ark (where allegedly some people actually died filming the spectacular flood scene[1]), and The Green Pastures (1936) a child’s daydreamed version of the stories she is hearing in Sunday School.
    The Green Pastures (1936)
    The Green Pastures was probably the first film to portray God, and certainly the first to portray him as a black man. Unsurprisingly the Ku Klux Klan were outraged and protested causing many theatre owners to refuse to show it. The Genesis scenes, being seen through a child’s imagination make no attempt to be realistic, but their gentle humour, and basic simplicity give the film a spiritual authenticity that is absent from the majority of these films.
    The Bible (1966)
    Perhaps the best known Genesis film was made by John Huston in 1966. The Bible looked at the first 22 chapters of Genesis, starting with a wonderfully filmed creation sequence (voiced by Huston himself), and progressing through to Abraham and Isaac. The Bible was made at the end of the golden era of the biblical epic, and wisely avoids making this into a spectacular but camp, bathrobe drama. Instead its dark lighting gives much of the film a strange sense of the dawn of time, and the primitive nature of the cultures involved.
    The Bible (1966) - backstage shot
    At the same time the literalism of the presentation will both find favour with those who take a more literal understanding of the “how” questions of creation, whilst also giving it the air of archetypal myth that adopt a more symbolic interpretation.
    Genesis Project  -The Bible: Genesis (1979)
    The Bible was the last Hollywood film based on the Old Testament for over 30 years, with the exception of Richard Gere’s 1985 turn as King David, (replete with his undignified monkey dancing in front of a returning Ark of the Covenant). Instead most bible films began to be made for the TV and the church market. Typical of this was the late seventies “Greatest Heroes of the Bible” series, which included the stories of Noah, The Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham, Joseph. Around the same time the American organisation Campus Crusade (who made the 1979 Jesus film) made Genesis. This was a word for word, bland narration of the whole book accompanied by fairly uninspiring images which lasted for four long hours. It’s biggest plus point was it’s use of Middle Eastern actors, but it’s no surprise that none of them subsequently became the new Omar Sharif.
    Mrinal Sen’s Hindi adaptation - Genesis (1986)
    The eighties were a dry old time for cinematic versions of the book. Only the intriguingly titled Italian film Adam and Eve: The First Love Story and Mrinal Sen’s Hindi adaptation of the first five chapters were even made.
    The Bible Collection - Abraham (1994)
    The nineties were a different matter. With Phil Collin’s namesake rock band out of the way, the bible’s opening tome was back in business. Whilst there were many Genesis movies made over that decade the majority were made by the Italian-American based company Lux Vide. Lux Vide put together 11 Old Testament stories as part of their “Bible Collection”, which also includes three New Testament films Jesus, Paul and The Apocalypse (my review), as well as four largely fictional spin offs, (each loosely based on a marginal New Testament character). Four of the Old Testament episodes were based on the events in Genesis - Creation and Flood, Abraham, Jacob and Joseph, and all four have their points of interest. Abraham, Jacob and Joseph frequently pierce the Sunday School cocoon that surrounds many tellings of these stories, both in cinema and other media, by including stories such as The Rape of Dinah, and Judah and Tamar that are so awkward, real, embarrassing and controversial that they are usually excluded completely. And the performances of Richard Harris, Sean Bean and Ben Kingsley respectively are usually worth watching in their own right.
    Genesis: Creation and Flood (1994)
    Of the four, Genesis: Creation and Flood (1994) is possibly the jewel in the crown. Certainly it is strikingly different from the more traditional and straightforward tellings of the story that the other films give us. Instead of attempting to emulate the pattern of the earlier The Bible, or of the other films in the series, Genesis: Creation and Flood sets it’s own course. Covering the first eight and half chapters the film shows us the stories through the eyes of an old man telling his grandson the history of his people. Paul Schofield narrates in all but a few passages, only occasionally interrupted by a female counterpart.

    The narration is accompanied by a striking series of images, occasionally interspersed by shots of Grandfather and the child, and other members of their family. It is an unusual effect. As Peter T Chattaway notes how normally you would be able to “follow any film's basic narrative thrust with the sound turned off… Genesis would fail that test”.[2]  In other words the narration shapes how the images are perceived. In a sense, this is like the act of creation itself, bringing form and order to the otherwise chaotic and unintelligible. The slow pacing of the film also gives it a meditative feel, enabling the audience to let the images wash over them whilst highlighting the words that drive them, and bring them meaning. This relaxed pace also brings a level of internal calm and thus transports the viewer to another time and another place far more effectively.

    Ultimately then Creation and Flood is far more poetic than any of it’s predecessors, and it is ironic that a film which is essentially driven by such a narrative and literary work is ultimately so unliterary and poetic as a final product. It’s also interesting how the stress here on the story being passed down from generation to generation reflects the oral tradition that preceded and underlies the written text we have today.
    In the Beginning (1999) - Martin Landau
    Another film that takes this community narrative approach was a made for TV movie In the Beginning (2000). Martin Landau headed up a strong cast, playing Abraham; just four years after he had played Abraham’s grandson Jacob in the aforementioned Joseph. At over three hours, In the Beginning had plenty of time to cram in a number of these stories, and as a result, it could afford to continue well into Exodus. The creation scene here is also told by way of a flashback, but the sequence is so overloaded with explosive special effects, and cheap modern documentary footage it completely strips the event of its mystery and gravitas.
    Noah's Ark (1999)
    The end of the millennium brought with it a flood of biblical stories, and Genesis films were no exception. Chief amongst the offenders was another TV movie Noah’s Ark (1999), which was almost as unwelcome as the events it depicts. It is difficult to imagine what motivated the production of this film. Its attempt to weave futuristic elements into a pre-historic myth backfires more spectacularly than a seventies Robin Reliant. The bizarre futuristic elements evoke Kevin Costner’s mega flop Waterworld. Had that film been a success this at least could be called a cheap cash in, but as it was a commercial disaster that cannot have been the driving factor. Similarly terrible is the ludicrous attempt to pass off its idiotic amalgamation of the stories of Lot and Noah with the ridiculous off-hand comment “by the time they finish the story of Sodom and Gomorrah they will probably say we weren't even there."

    The only potential merit of the film is that it solves the debate on God’s foreknowledge for ever. Noah’s Ark is so bad that if God had known the flood would spawn this stinker, he may have opted for another method of world destruction, (or at least have made sure that this was destroyed along with everything else). Frankly, it deserves every “wooden acting” joke that critics can throw at it.

    Another poorly executed Genesis film is the straight to video Prince of Egypt  prequel   Joseph King of Dreams. The film does have some good points, notably the dream sequences which certainly benefit from a more creative and more expressive medium. However, the tiresome songs quickly become so dull that ultimately you begin to wonder if a spell in prison like Joseph’s might be far preferable.
    La Genese (1998)
    Perhaps the best Genesis film of recent years (and of all time) is Cheick Oumar Sissoko’s La Genèse(1998). Sissoko’s film tells the story of Abraham’s family from an African perspective, and as a result, it is recorded in the Bambara language of Mali, spoken by only few million people. As a result La Genèse understands the nomadic tribal context in which these stories are set, far better than any number of  Hollywood films, and brings with it a number of fascinating insights.
    La Genese (1998)
    It also refuses to lionise its protagonists, and emphasises just how dysfunctional this family was at times. Too often these characters have been stripped of their humanity, and shown simply as one dimensional heroes. La Genèse gives a more realistic picture which honours the God who uses such ordinary, broken unreliable people to further his will, and offers us hope that he can use us as well.

    La Genèse is also beautifully filmed capturing the wonderful landscapes, and capturing something of the empty space that typified the world several thousand years ago. Nevertheless, at times the film is very stark and brutal in what it captures – starring unflinchingly at some of the more earthy elements of the story.
    La Genese (1998)
    It’s the ability of this film to bring a new angle to well known and familiar stories that makes it so valuable. There have been many films on the various Genesis stories, but only a handful bring something insightful, interesting or challenging. Of these three stand out in particular. The Bible (1966) simultaneously shuns the worst excesses of the 50s and 60s Biblical Epics whilst subverting some of the genre’s standard features. La Genèse (1998) brings the tribal context to the fore, exploring the stories with an authenticity that is largely absent otherwise. Finally, Genesis: Creation and Flood (1994), offers us the chance to reflect on scripture anew as it draws attention to the poetic nature of the text.  

    [1] Various reports of this, the best online can be found at www.jimusnr.com/Noahsark.html

    [2] www.canadianchristianity.com/cgi-bin/bc.cgi?bc/bccn/0501/artvideos

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    Friday, March 31, 2017

    The Gospel of Mark (2016)

    Years ago I ran a balloon debate on the subject of the four gospels. The participants were each given one of the four gospels, went away to do some preparation and then had to put forward their case as to why their gospel ought to remain at the expense of one of the others. Unsurprisingly, Mark lost. John is the most distinct, Matthew has the Sermon on the Mount, Luke has the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, but what does Mark have? It's probably the oldest, but other than that most people would struggle to tell you much about its own distinctive take on the life, death and maybe resurrection of Jesus (but more on that later).

    Mark's Gospel has also been a loser in another way - until the recent release of the Lumo Project's The Gospel of Mark it was the only canonical gospel not to have a word-for-word screen adaptation. Luke was adapted in the seventies, Matthew in the nineties and John just after the turn of the century, but despite rumours that the company who made those two, later, adaptations were planning to record a version of Mark's gospel, nothing ever materialised. Until now.

    The Gospel of Mark has been released as part of the Lumo project, which has produced filmed versions of all four gospels. A not insubstantial part of the reason for the project getting this far is that it has taken a rather unusual approach. Instead of having actors recite their lines at the relevant moment in the film, all the text is spoken by an unseen narrator. The DVD even offers the choice to choose between Rupert Penry-Jones performing the NIV version of the Gospel, or Tim Piggott-Smith's reading of the King James. In contrast to the majority of films about Jesus, which tend to suggest they are getting back to the original historical figure, the use of narration really emphasises the textual nature of the gospel. It's a similar approach to that taken by the Genesis project's Gospel of Luke and Genesis in the 1970s. The characters voices can be heard faintly in the background, speaking Aramaic, but not loud enough to know whether they are speaking the words from Mark's gospel or Matthew's. This has allowed the producers to re-use the same footage in different films even though the precise wording of the two texts may vary. This also de-emphasises the the actors and their acting and places a greater emphasis on the actual text.

    All of which raises a number of interesting issues, particularly for biblical scholars. Some might object, for example, that having the same footage re-used even though the wording is different rather underplays the differences between the gospels. Indeed at times the images don't quite fit the words that are being spoken. We see two donkeys in Jesus' entry into Jerusalem; darkness is said to come, when it manifestly doesn't and, most disappointingly of all, Gethsemane's streaker - one of Mark's most intriguing flourishes - is mentioned but absent.

    This impression that  the differences between the gospels are being somewhat watered down is bolstered by the use of the same actor playing Jesus. Of course, that said, there was only one historical Yeshua so this approach is far from unwarranted. Furthermore the opposite can also be argued. Whilst the reusing the footage might suggest a marginally greater degree of harmony, it does highlight the fact that the latter gospel writers (particularly Matthew and Luke) did simply re-use large chunks of text (/footage) from Mark's gospel (and, in Luke's case either Matthew and/or Q as well).

    Nevertheless, having noted the way the film emphasises text the film also has a strong emphasis on image. It is, at times, beautifully shot, with many of the establishing shots filmed in striking locations. Then there's also the choice of Selva Rasalingam as Jesus. Shorn of the ability to act with his delivery and intonation Rasalingam gives a very physical performance, of a strong, tough Jesus. Many filmmakers have talked about presenting a Jesus who could credibly have spent his younger years working as a tekton (builder/carpenter). This is certainly true of Rasalingam, but the strength in his performance is something far deeper.

    It is also no a performance designed to win over fans cheaply and easily. Whilst once or twice he's a little over smiley for my tastes there are also times where his brusqueness will not appease those who like their Jesus' meek and mild, or to be constantly sporting a smile. You can never please everyone in this respect so I think the balance is about right, particularly for the Gospel of Mark, which of the four canonical portraits, puts the greatest emphasis on Jesus' humanity. It's a challenging portrayal, but in a way that asks good, honest questions about our preconceptions.

    It's also nice to see some of the less popular episodes from Mark get treated, the miracles in particular. One of the distortions of biblical films is that they tend to focus on certain types of miracle. On the one hand there are those that are the most dramatic, or the most spectacular, that look the best on the big screen. On the other hand many filmmakers, choose miracles dependant on their acceptability to cynical modern viewers. 'Miracles' where more 'natural' explanations....

    By restricting themselves to a particular text the filmmakers' choice as to which episodes to include are taken out of their hands. And so these less desirable incidents are included when usually they might not be. So here we see a series of exorcisms, hands healed, someone is given the ability to speak and those that were blind see. Mark's gospel is full of little healings like these, but they are often too understated, or repeated too often to get included in big, gospel-harmonising films. In this film, it's a fascinating reminder that Jesus wasn't just about grand set pieces but about changing individual lives. Few Jesus films contain any more than one exorcism, for example, but Mark's gospel is full of them and it's good to see that put on the screen for once, however out of kilter it seems to the modern world.

    Not dis-similarly it's also good to see Jesus' apocalyptic predictions about the fall of Jerusalem captured on screen in its unadulterated entirety. It's only natural that the majority of filmmakers, omit, greatly abridge, alter or harmonise this speech. Sometimes the results are even rather impressive such as in Jesus of Montreal (1989). Obviously a variation on this speech has appeared in the Genesis Project's Luke and the Visual Bible's Matthew, but in those cases the sources texts have already changed the words we find in Mark. So it's good to see the original, with it's more this-worldly emphasis and its dramatic imagery. The film does well with this as well setting the scene round a campfire (a setting that captures the dark and fiery tone of the speech) but intercutting it with flash forwards to keep things interesting.

    Having done this part so well, it's disappointing that the ending is so unimaginative. The agreed upon text of Mark appears to comes up short at chapter 16 verse 8 (before any sightings of the risen Jesus) and all we're left with is a series of fragments where others have sought to create a new ending. It's a scenario that suggested a series of interesting possibilities cinematically, particularly for an adaptation that puts such an emphasis on the Gospel's text. Sadly, all we get is the most popular of these endings presented as a piece with the rest of chapter 16. Whilst this is perhaps the least problematic and controversial solution, my inner Bible geek had hoped for something more creative and interesting here.

    But that's just me, and probably shouldn't be taken too seriously. You see whilst Mark did lose out in that initial balloon debate, over time, it's gradually become my favourite. Indeed, in my estimation, it's even overtaken the gospel attributed to my namesake Matthew. I appreciate the way that Mark is less varnished than Matthew and Luke (both of whom took it and amended it for their particular purposes). I value its breathless, hurried, style. I enjoy its many mysteries such as the ambiguous, possibly lost, ending.

    Whilst Lumo's Gospel of Mark isn't primarily aimed at Mark-geeks like me, it does do a good job of bringing many of those aspects to the screen and like the other entries in the series is generally well put together. It may be the last of the gospels to make it onto film, but it's certainly one of the strong attempts at this kind of word for word adaptation.


    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    Genesis Project: Luke Ch.1-4

    Having worked through Matthew's gospel a couple of months ago with the Visual Bible series, I've now moved onto Luke. (Last month was Mark for which there is no word for word version). I'm not going to have the time to write on this one as extensively as Matthew, so this will be in four or so parts (one per video cassette) rather than 14.

    The story behind this film is rather complicated, and the signs of this complexity are most obvious in these opening chapters. Back in 1974 John Heyman founded the Genesis Project, also known as the New Media Bible (not in the sense New Media means today). He wanted to film the entire Bible, and began work in 1976, but only got as far as making chapters 1 and 2 of Luke before he realised he was going to need a lot more money. So Heyman decided to team up with Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ. Bright and his organisation would help fund Heyman's project and in return he'd make them a shorter Jesus film that could be used as an evangelistic tool. The film was to become known as The Jesus Film and it was released in 1979. Heyman figured the film would help promote his project as well as fund it. John Dart has written a more detailed account on the back story to this project and that film, and there's a 2003 thread at Arts and Faith where Peter Chattaway and I discuss how the two projects relate.

    What's strange is that the two productions have different nativity scenes. By the time the movie came to being released, the films of the first couple of chapters of Luke had been around for three years. In the meantime the actress that played Mary was now unavailable and Heyman decided not to use the new footage to spruce up the start of the word-for-word film.

    The series starts with Luke on a hill reading from a scroll. We get an establishing shot of Zechariah and Elizabeth so we know who he is in the following scene at the temple. Both Zechariah and Mary are visited by an angel with a big afro-style hair cut. This is shot quite effectively with the light behind him in order to give the impression of a halo.

    One of the curious aspects of this film is that, in contrast to the later Visual Bible film, it appears to be entirely narrated. What's even more unusual is that we can here that the film also features a background track in Aramaic. So Mel Gibson was not exactly breaking new ground by using Aramaic in The Passion of the Christ despite what some people claimed at the time.

    These comments aren't so much a formal review as just some extended notes on the film as I watch it, so I'll just chuck in a minor observation here that when Jesus is presented in the temple and meets Simeon and Anna, we also see Zechariah. This links nicely to the next scene where Zechariah's son, a particularly scraggly John the Baptist, in baptising people in the River Jordan. We see Jesus baptised, and an actual dove land on his shoulder. According to Brian Deacon (Jesus) this scene was horrendous to film as it involved him standing in cold water for hours whilst they tried to entice the dove to land on his bird-seed covered shoulder. That anecdote however does serve to highlight a subtle change that Luke makes to Mark (and Matthew's text). Whilst in all three gospels the dove is only a simile - the Holy Spirit descends "as a dove" - only Luke stresses that this happens "in bodily form". In the other three gospels the implication is that this is imagery, rather than an actual bird.

    One of the biggest hurdles in filming Luke is the genealogy. True it's not as potentially problematic as in Matthew, where it's right at the beginning and so likely to scare some people off before they even get started. Nevertheless it's very easy to make such a scene deathly boring. What Heyman and Sykes do is narrate the list of Jesus' ancestors over an action shot of him walking. In contrast to the Visual Bible version only rarely do we see "Luke" and as this is our first introduction to Jesus and he is almost marching through a rugged terrain, it's actually fairly engaging.

    Jesus' destination is the desert where he will be tempted. The devil is represented by a snake, which, it could be argued, is perhaps the best physical approach to portraying Satan in a Jesus film. It's not time bound, or so open to interpretation as many other approaches. That said I don't think I can recall a film which portrays this as all being in Jesus' mind, although Scorsese's take might be interpreted that way. The latter two temptations are depited by frosting in an inset of relevant images. It turns out that these are actually taken from the model of Jerusalem and the temple from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. As I've been using the stills of this model found at the IMJ's website it was strange to see the model pop up so obviously in the film. It's a good way of making this sequence more interesting at a very low cost however.

    One of the best scenes in the Jesus film also occurs in these opening four chapters: Jesus delivering his gospel manifesto and his resulting rejection at Nazareth. I made some comments on this scene a few weeks back which I'll reproduce here for ease:
    This film is an adaptation of Luke so it's not surprising to find that it's the one that most closely corresponds to that gospel. We see Jesus sitting on the floor and covering his head and kissing the scriptures before reading them. The wording here is pretty much as per the gospel. It even includes Jesus being brought to the cliff edge though whilst the narrator describes Jesus walking through the middle of the crowd we only see him walk away from them.
    This film differs however in one crucial way. Whereas in the Jesus film an audience member links Jesus' words with a claim to be the messiah, in this production no such claim is made. The narrator sticks to the text which, in fact, doesn't link Jesus' declaration to a claim to be the messiah . In the text, Jesus causes an uproar not because of any messianic claim, but because he anticipates his rejection by the Nazarenes (and, by implication, the Jewish people in general) and predicts God working amongst the Gentiles instead.

    The tape ends at the end of chapter 4 with the healings of a demon-possessed man, Simon Peter's mother-in-law and the crowds that come to Jesus when words of these miracles gets around.

    (This production is only available on VHS, and it's pretty rare, although there is one copy for sale at jesusonscreen.com).


    Monday, March 13, 2006

    Jesus (1979)

    From a worldwide perspective, Jesus is possibly the most influential image of Jesus in history. The film, made by Campus Crusade for Christ in 1979 to be a tool for evangelism, has apparently, been seen by over 5.4 billion people.1 Whilst that figure includes numerous repeat viewers, and may not be that accurate, it is still incredibly impressive. Cecil B. DeMille, years after he directed The King of Kings claimed that his 1927 film had reached more people with the gospel than any other work except the bible. Today that position has been usurped by this film - an even more impressive task given how much bigger the world's population is today compared to 50 years ago.

    What is strange, is that few people in countries that speak its original tongue would claim to have seen it. Yet it has been translated into 909 languages with another 232 in progress.2 When a new translation is made native speakers of that language are asked to play the various parts. I can't help but wonder if one day they'll be a great Jesus actor re-union, where all the actors who've provided his voice in the different version meet up to exchange stories over fish and bread. The Papua New Guinean Jesus is explaining to the Mongolian Jesus how there is no word for lamb in his culture, whilst the Yup'ik Eskimo Jesus explains to the Swahilian actor that they have 15 words for snow and he didn't get to use any of them.

    The film was originally made as part of The Genesis Project - producer John Heyman's (A Passage to India) plan to film the entire bible word for word. Heyman had already made Genesis but needed more financial backing and saw a film about Jesus as a good way to raise revenue to fund the rest of the project. As a result the entire gospel of Luke would be filmed, with the final film being edited together based on footage from that film. In the end there would be a few extra moments of dialogue that were not based on the gospel, but they are fairly minor. As well as being faithful to the biblical text, the film also aimed to be as historically accurate as possible as well, at least within the restraints of using one gospel. Hence all of the actors except for Jesus were Yemenite Jews - supposedly the Jewish racial group whose features have altered the least in the last 200 years. It was also only the second film to show the nails going through Jesus' wrists rather than his hands and him carrying a just the beam, rather than the whole cross.4 That said, when Mel Gibson stated his quest for accuracy by improving on the "bad hair" of other Jesus films, this one cannot have been far from his mind.5

    It's too easy to judge a film 30 years later for how quickly it has dated. Whilst some films still look like they could have been made yesterday (e.g. 1977's Jesus of Nazareth), others, such as Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), that supposedly looked good at the time look awful today. Nevertheless, Jesus was made on a small budget, a fact reflected by it's poor budget. This is accentuated by the wooden use of the biblical text. It's hard to know who to blame for this - writer, actor, director, or all three - but the end result is that the written dialogue, from an undynamic translation comes across as stilted. At times the natural rhythm of the scene is ruined by the need for one of the characters to deliver the verse by rote. That said occasionally the film liberates itself from the text, such as the moment when Jesus stands up and is cast into darkness as he says "that is enough".

    What is also unusual about the film's use of the bible is that the film ends on a quote from John's gospel, not Luke's. This actually epitomises relationship to that gospel as well as Luke's. Whereas Luke's motivations for writing are not entirely clear, John's stated intention for his gospel is that his readers "may know that Jesus is the messiah, the (S/s)on of God". This correlates with the film-makers' aim to create a film that is an evangelistic tool. Luke's narrative arc is more engaging, and as such was a wise choice, but John's influence is never far away.

    That said, the film does also retain a strongly Lucan emphasis at points. This is possibly the only Jesus film ever not to have included the crown of thorns, which is absent in Luke.5 Actor Brian Deacon caught pneumonia during the baptism scene in order to fulfil the literal landing of a dove on Jesus's shoulder. In Mark's gospel this is only a simile. The film is also one of the only ones to tell the story of Zaccheus, and retains distinctly Lucan parables such as the Good Samaritan.

    Jesus then, reflects the roots of its project. The film-makers were allowed more freedom to abridge, add to and shape the text of Luke compared to the later Visual Bible's Matthew and Gospel of John, and, as a result, the film is interesting on a literary level. However, film is primarily a visual medium, and despite the attempts at historical accuracy Jesus fails in almost every sense visually. Not only does it fail to exert any sort of cinematic vision, or use the camera in a distinctive or original manner, but it also offers a weak portrayal of that which is in front of the camera. Brian Deacon is a believable Jesus, and Luke a believable storyteller, but somehow the film fails the link the two in a credible cinematic fashion.


    1 - From "The Jesus Film" website.
    2 - - From "The Jesus Film" website.
    3 - The first film to show the nails going through the wrists was 1935's Golgotha. The first film to show Jesus carrying just the crossbeam was Jesus of Nazareth (1977).
    4 - Holly McClure - New York Daily News, January 26, 2003, reproduced at BP News
    5 - Nevertheless the film was criticsed in some Christian circles for excluding it.


    Friday, June 11, 2010

    Full List of Adam and Eve Films

    On Sunday I started compiling a list of films featuring Adam and Eve. I've now had a chance to work through that previous list, and eliminate a few films which seem only tangentially linked to the biblical story. In some cases however there isn't really enough evidence to tell. I've also arranged them in ascending order of year. Here's the full list, 44 films in total:

    Adam & Eve (1910)
    Adam & Eve [Vitagraph] (1912)
    The New Adam and Eve (1915)
    Young Eve and Old Adam (1920)
    Adam and Eve a la Mode (1920)
    Adam and Eve in the Andes (1920)
    The Bible: Creation (1921)
    Adam and Eve (1921)
    Good Morning Eve (1934)
    Green Pastures (1936)
    Adán, Eva y el diablo [aka Adam, Eve and the Devil] (1945)
    Der Apfel ist AB (1948)
    Adamo ed Eva (1949)
    Adamo ed Eva (1950)
    Adam wa Hawa (1951)
    Adan y Eva (1956)
    Stvoreni Sveta [The Creation of the World] (1958)
    The Creation of Woman (1960)
    The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (1960)
    Male and Female Since Adam and Eve (1961)
    Adam & Eve (1962)
    I Patriarchi Della Bibbia (1963)
    The Bible: In The Beginning (1966)
    La Creacion (1968)
    El Peco de Adan Y Eva [The Sin of Adam and Eve] (1968)
    El pecado de Adán y Eva [aka The Sin of Adam and Eve] (1969)
    Bible (1974)
    New Media Bible: Book of Genesis [Genesis Project] (1979)
    The Diary of Adam and Eve (1980)
    Adamo ed Eva, la prima storia d'amore (1983)
    Angyali üdvözlet (The Annunciation) (1984)
    Second Time Lucky (1984)
    The Diaries of Adam and Eve (1988)
    Genesis: Creation and Flood (1994)
    Testament: The Bible in Animation: Creation and the Flood (1996)
    In The Beginning (1999)
    Loss of Sexual Innocence (1999)
    Expulsion from Paradise (2001)
    The Story of Adam & Eve (2002)
    The Real Old Testament (2003)
    Iván Ávila Dueñas's Adán y Eva [Todavía] (2004)
    Adam and Eve: Uncensored (2006)
    The God Complex (2009)
    Year One (2009)
    The Unauthorized Biography of Adam and Eve (2009)

    There's also 3 Adam and Eve related films being produced at the moment:

    Keanu Reeves in a sci-fi version of the Adam and Eve story

    David L. Cunningham's forthcoming 3D In the Beginning
    Scott Derrickson's planned adaptation of Paradise Lost,

    Did I miss anything?

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    Sunday, June 06, 2010

    Finding Adam and Eve Films

    Recently, I've been thinking about films about the creation of the world and Adam and Eve. In part this is because it seems to me that there are so many that I have heard of but am yet to see, and I struggle to distinguish some of them from one another. SO, just as I have previously tried to list "all" films on Noah and Samson, I'm going to try to do the same for this part of the Bible.

    Firstly there are the films I have seen (linking to my writings on them - though some you may have to scroll down to reach).
    Green Pastures (1936)
    The Bible: In The Beginning (1966)
    Genesis: Creation and Flood (1994)
    Testament: The Bible in Animation: Creation and the Flood (1996)
    In The Beginning (1999)
    The Real Old Testament (2003)
    The God Complex (2009)
    Next up are the films that Campbell and Pitts name in "The Bible on Film":
    Adam & Eve (1910)
    Adam & Eve (1912) - Vitagraph
    The Bible: Creation (1921-22)
    Good Morning Eve (1934)
    Der Apfel ist AB (1948)
    Adamo ed Eva (1950)
    Adan y Eva (1956) - poster above
    Stvoreni Sveta (the Creation of the World) (1958)
    The Creation of Woman (1960)
    The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (1960)
    Adam & Eve (1962)
    I Patriarchi Della Bibbia (1963)
    La Creacion (1968)
    El Peco de Adan Y Eva (The Sin of Adam and Eve) (1968)
    Bible (1974)
    In addition to this there are a number of other films which I'm aware of which are not included in the above:
    Mike Figgis's Loss of Sexual Innocence (pictured above)
    The Genesis Project: Genesis,
    Year One
    David L. Cunningham's forthcoming 3D In the Beginning,
    Scott Derrickson's planned adaptation of Paradise Lost,
    The Annunciation (Angyali üdvözlet) (1984)
    Iván Ávila Dueñas's Adán y Eva (Todavía).
    Leafing through the Internet Movie Database reveals a number of other likely possibilities. Firstly those named simply "Adam and Eve"
    Adam and Eve (1921)
    Adamo ed Eva (1949)
    Adam wa Hawa (1951)
    Adam og Eva (1953)
    Adam och Eva (1963)
    Adam i Heva (1969)
    Adamo ed Eva, la prima storia d'amore (1983) aka "Adam and Eve"
    Adam & Eve (2002) aka "Forbidden Fruit"
    Adam & Eve (2003)
    There is also Adam and Eve (2005) better known as National Lampoon: Adam and Eve, but from what I can make out that one has little to do with the biblical story.

    Then there are also these films which include "Adam and Eve" in the title, and might well be based on the Bible in some way:
    The New Adam and Eve (1915)
    Young Eve and Old Adam (1920)
    Adam and Eve a la Mode (1920)
    Adam and Eve in the Andes (1920)
    Adán, Eva y el diablo (1945) aka "Adam, Eve and the Devil"
    Male and Female Since Adam and Eve (1961)
    El pecado de Adán y Eva (1969)aka "The Sin of Adam and Eve" - USA
    The Diary of Adam and Eve (1980)
    The Diaries of Adam and Eve (1988) (TV)
    The Story of Adam & Eve (2002)
    Eve & Adam (2004)
    Adam and Eve: Uncensored (2006)
    The Unauthorized Biography of Adam and Eve (2009)
    I haven't had time to check the descriptions of the films on the IMDB as usually a few of them prove to be largely unrelated. So when I get another chance I'll work through all those, eliminate any spurious entries and post a complete list.

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    Wednesday, January 07, 2015

    Bible Films Blog Review of 2014

    In previous years, I’ve offered a review of the year, although this has rather fallen by the wayside in recent time. However, 2014 was a bit of a stonker, so it would seem remiss not to do at least something.

    The big news was, of course, the long awaited release of a number of biblical epics, which hit not just the odd art-house cinema, or graced a local congregation with a decentish video projector, but in the local, everyday cinemas. Russell Crowe was talking about Noah in primetime TV shows. The Guardian was offering opinion pieces about Moses every time Ridley Scott coughed in a vaguely atheistic manner.

    As it turned out neither film made the, um, waves, that their respective studios had hoped for and neither director will be pleased to hear that they are more likely to win a Razzie than an Oscar come the spring.

    But before all that there was the matter of the Son of God - not so much the actual one as the cinema release of the Gospel footage from the History Channel’s 2013 series The Bible. Cutting down a TV series to a movie is a risky strategy. On the one hand the popularity of the “best of” genre might mean that he TV series might just be part of a lengthy marketing campaign – the world’s longest ever trailer if you like. But the question still remained, why would people get in their cars, drive out of town and pay through the nose to watch something they have already seen for “free”?

    As it turned out Son of God did rather well, perhaps because compelling answers were found to that question. Buying a ticket to Son of God was a statement of faith, a chance to send a message to Hollywood. Or you could buy two and bring along a friend with whom you wanted to share your faith.

    From an artistic point of view however the quality of the product was largely the same as that of the original 2013 series. Jesus was still too blond and off-puttingly good looking; the dialogue and the acting still left a great deal to be desired; and it still wasn’t really clear what Jesus was actually about other than being nice.

    One Bible film hero who eluded, with consummate ease, any charge of being overly nice, was Russell Crowe’s Noah, who shifted from grunting environmentalist to genocidal maniac over the course of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. It’s the kind of precipice along which many edge along when they tell us how bad humans in general, and children in particular, are bad for the environment? But that’s another matter.

    Actually the scenes where Noah contemplates whether he should kill his own granddaughter were, in my opinion, rather misunderstood. Noah didn’t want to murder members of his own family, he just thought it might be what “The Creator” was calling him to do. After all it was the logical extension of what he had already done – a point that may of the faithful struggle to appreciate. It was a great performance from Crowe, but the terrain of unlikeable anti-hero seemed to leave the film, rather than just its antihero rather unloved. It was a shame. Aronofsky’s bizarre epic was drenched in biblical and other religious references, many of which weren’t even half as odd as the original text.

    December is often a busy time of year for those of us interested in Bible films and 2014 would prove no exception. In the cinema Ridley Scott's Exodus: Gods and Kings (my review ) received a fairly lukewarm welcome in many western countries and was banned in several countries in North Africa and the Middle East. In the current climate it's hard to know which is more damaging, western indifference or Egyptian anger.

    In the west the film's biggest talking point was the supposed white washing, casting Joel Edgerton and Christian Bale as an Egyptian and someone who manages to pass as an Egyptian for forty years. I must admit I can see both sides of the argument. On the one hand Christian art has always portrayed the faith's heroes in its own image as a way of relating to them. At the same time, as my comments above about Son of God suggest I also like to see more realistic casting.

    One film that did embrace a more ethnically accurate Jesus was The Gospel of John the latest output from the Lumo Project (an offshoot of Big Book Media). The series, which is available on Netflix, narrates John's Gospel over dramatized reconstructed video footage. Jesus is played by Selva Rasalingam who is half Tamil. If his face is familiar it’s because he has been playing Jesus in various Lumo/Big Book projects over the last few years, including the music video for Deliriou5?'s "History Maker" and the BBC’s The Story of Jesus (2011). Also part of those projects, as well as 2012’s David Suchet: In the Footsteps of St Paul, is director David Batty.

    The Lumo Project will eventually cover all four gospels in the same style, and Netflix features narration in both the King James and the New International versions of the Bible. As a medium it’s very similar to the Genesis Project’s Gospel of Luke (1979) which starred Brian Deacon and was recut as Jesus (1979), certainly it’s quite different in feel from other the two Visual Bible word for word projects Matthew (1994) and Gospel of John (2003).

    Given that John’s Gospel only received the word for word treatment 11 years ago, it’s surprising that the filmmakers have chosen to start with John, particularly as John’s wordy gospel is perhaps the one least suited to such a treatment. Personally I wished they’d opted for the only gospel not, yet, to have been filmed this way, Mark. But that will later this year if the IMDb is to be believed. Hopefully it will get a UK Netflix release as well. Incidentally 2015 will also see Rasalingam star as James in a Jesus-cameo film Clavius

    The appearance of The Gospel of John on Netflix seems to reflect a broader trend of niche faith-based films being broadcast away from traditional channels. Another such production in 2014 was The Red Tent, an adaptation of Anita Diamant’s historicalish novel of the same name. Diamant’s novel took the stories from around Genesis around Leah and Jacob’s daughter Dinah and re-imagines Shechem as her lover rather than her rapist. Young’s mini-series, which aired on the Lifetime network early in December, cast Rebecca Ferguson, star of 2013’s excellent The White Queen’s, and also features Minnie Driver, Debra Winger, Morena Baccarin and Hiam Abbass in prominent roles. Peter Chattaway has a great interview about the series with the director Roger Young.

    The other TV film worth a mention was the BBC animated short film On Angel Wings, which aired in the UK on Christmas Eve. It starred an old man recalling the visit of the Angels on the first Christmas night to the group of shepherds he worked for and how one angel secretly flew him to the stable so he got to meet the baby Jesus. Readers may recall my enjoyment of the Fourth King a fictional tale about the magi. On Angel Wings would make a good companion piece dealing as it does with Jesus' other Christmas visitors.

    Then there were several smaller films which brought the more poetic parts of the Bible to the screen. The Song re-imagined the life of King Solomon as an amorous country singer, with nods to both Song of Songs/Solomon and Ecclesiastes. Meanwhile Amos Gitai directed one of the short films in the anthology film Words with Gods. Gitai already has two fine Bible films under his wings, [Esther (1996) and Golem: l'esprit de l'exil (1992)] and here he took the on the work of his namesake, the prophet Amos.

    Perhaps the most significant of the films dealing with the more poetic parts of the Bible was Andrey Zvyagintsev's Leviathan. As with The Song it took the form of a modern story, this time the story revolves around a man fighting corruption in the coastal town where he lives, but there is also a healthy dose of the Book of Job. It's also likely to be the most successful of those films with a substantial link to the Bible, having been Russia's entry for the foreign language Oscar it's now one of the final nominations and has already won the Golden Globe in the same category.*

    Documentary-wise it was a fairly light year, though it's more than possible I missed something. David Suchet did feature in In the Footsteps of St. Peter, the follow up to his 2013 In the Footsteps of St Paul .

    However, there were a couple of new books about Bible Films that are worth a mention. David Shepherd's "The Bible on Silent Film" looks to be an excellent guide to an under-discussed period in the genre's development. I couldn't afford the hardback or a Kindle editions so I've only read excerpts but the bits I've read are full of fascinating detail and insight. Technically the hard back was released right at the end of 2013, but seeing as the paper back will be released in March this year, we can split the difference. I'm looking forward to getting a copy.

    Another book to touch upon the sub-genre is Graham Holderness' "Re-Writing Jesus: Christ in 20th-Century Fiction and Film" which touched on Last Temptation of Christ, The Passion of the Christ and The DaVinci Code, as well as various books about the life of Jesus. There were also various books released related to the films mentioned above including a picture book for the team behind Son of God.

    And lastly there was a conference. Not so much about a Jesus Films as a very close relation. "Jesus and Brian: or What Have the Pythons Ever Done for us?" ran for three days in June in Kings College, London and featured an impressive team of speakers, including John Cleese and Terry Jones, and even gained some national press coverage. Sadly neither time, nor money, nor health, permitted me to be there, but Mark Goodacre made it, blogged about it and did rather rub salt in the wounds of those of us who would have loved to be there but weren't. I mean, he got to meet John Cleese.

    Anyway 2015 promises a great deal. There are various films due for release about which Peter Chattaway is doing some great blogging. He also posts numerous things on the Bible Films Facebook page, for which I'm incredibly grateful. There's also a few books to look out for, including David Shepherd's follow up volume "The Silents of Jesus" and there might even be a book with a couple of chapters by myself to report on in next year's review of the year.

    *There were some subsequent edits here, made after the Oscar nominations

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    Sunday, October 08, 2017

    Noah (2014)

    In comparison to the majority of Bible movies, films about Noah have tended to take a more creative approach to telling the story. Michael Curtiz's 1929 Noah's Ark wraps the main story up in a "modern" day train crash story; thimbles and pipe cleaners lend a distinct charm to Disney's 1959 stop motion short of the same name; and the 1999 TV film, also of the same name, bizarrely combines the story of Noah with that of Lot.

    Darren Aronofsky's Noah (2014), then, is hardly the first film about Noah to take a more creative approach. His is a mythic take, on a story which permeated so many different ancient cultures. Whilst this version is clearly an adaptation of the Jewish version of the story - and whilst Aronofsky himself is an atheist, his Jewish background has clearly been influential - the fantastical approach he has taken with his subject matter works to evoke a story that was known to far more people groups than simply the descendants of Jacob.

    Aronofsky particularly seems to revel in the fact that the Bible is often a strange book, and that few parts of it embody that 'oddness' more than Genesis. Indeed, I don't think you've really taken the Bible seriously until you acknowledge this inherent oddness. Take for example these words from the prologue to the Noah story:
    "When people began to multiply...and daughters were born to them, the 'sons of God' saw that they were fair and took wives for themselves... the 'sons of God' went in to the daughters of humans, who bore children to them..." (Gen 6:1-4)
    And that's one of the passages that Aronofsky leaves out. Add in those making covenants by dismembering animal carcasses and perambulating between them; Lot sleeping with both his daughters on consecutive nights, and Abraham being just moments away from sacrificially chopping up his only son and you have one weird book. Of course, Genesis is not necessarily endorsing all the  actions it describes. However, all too often people behave as if that the world of Genesis was broadly similar to out own, where people thought, felt and generally acted in a similar manner to the way in which we do today, despite the substantial evidence to the contrary, not least in our main source for these very stories.

    What I most appreciate about Aronofsky's Noah, therefore, is that he grasps, and indeed seems to relish, this strange 'otherness'. The film was over twenty years in the making after a project at school on the subject first caught his attention. The result is probably the first Bible film to feel like a cross between Lord of the Rings, Waterworld and Mad Max. As John Wilson put it, Noah isn't so much an adaptation, as a film that uses Genesis as a "mood board" (Front Row, 2014). The resulting film posses a strangely uneven style which many have disliked, but again this is what makes the film so bizarre and so interesting.

    On the surface of course, it's a biblical epic and some of the scenes that Aronofsky has created here are amongst the very best in the genre. Chief among them are the minutes leading up to the launch of the ark which, on the big screen at least, are spectacular. Noah rescues his son Ham from the descendants of Cain, escapes to the ark whilst the 'watchers' protect the ark from the on-rushing hordes, which culminates in their angelic souls spectacularly beaming back up to heaven just as the waters of the deep break forth lifting the ark up and away.  Clint Mansell's score, quite different from the kind of music he has typically produced for Aronofsky, ratchets up the tension magnificently. It maybe the 21st century, but it nevertheless feels very like the moment the Red Sea parts in the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments.

    But this sequence also contains exactly those elements which feel so very far away from the kind of movie that DeMille and his ilk would ever have produced. The 'watchers' are angels (the Nephilim of Gen 4) who have quite literally fallen to earth, and found as they crashed to earth that the earth, or rather its rock, has clung to their bodies. The resulting 'rock monsters' look like the kind of special effect Ray Harryhausen might have created for Jason and the Argonauts (1963). When they die defending the ark their souls are sucked back up to heaven in great beams of light that feels like something from Independence Day.

    The movie's other breathtaking sequence also illustrates the diverse mix of styles that Aronofsky brings together. Shortly after the launch of the ark, Noah retells his family the story of creation accompanied by a time-lapse-styled montage portraying an evolutionary act of creation with a hint of stop-motion. The sequence ends at the Tree of Life (with all the echoes of Aronofsky's earlier The Fountain) with a glowing snakeskin wrapped around Noah's arm like tefillin straps. Throw in the lunar-esque Icelandic landscape; a cameo from Anthony Hopkins that veers a little too closely to Billy Crystal's turn in The Princess Bride; and Noah's nightmares alternating between blood underfoot and water overhead, and it's not hard to see why many dislike the film's unevenness.

    The unevenness both unsettles viewers and hints at the divergent sources that lay behind the version that is cherished today. It's not that Aronofsky has pinpointed the exact cultural context of the original stories. He hasn't and clearly didn't intended to. But he has created a context where some of the questions that the text raises, and that the story's characters would have had to face, can be explored. In particular the time spent on the ark during the flood, so often skipped over in other versions of the story, turns into a dark psychological drama, as Noah feels inescapably drawn to take The Creator's work to its grimly 'logical' conclusion by ending even his own family line.

    It's a film, then, that takes seriously the nature of the destruction that "The Creator" (as God is called in this version) unleashes during this story - a point that few critics seemed to appreciated. Ironically, many Christians railed against the film's portrayal of Noah as a homicidal maniac, overlooking the fact that of course the number of deaths at Noah's hands are only a fraction of those who drown in the flood sent by God. To assess this film's Noah as a psychopath is something of a miscalculation. Noah doesn't want to kill his granddaughter - and in fact ultimately he cannot - he just believes that this is what his creator is calling him to do. Noah's readiness to follow even the most horrific of his creator's commands brings him into similar territory as Abraham, sacrificing his offspring because he is convinced God wills it.

    As Peter Chattaway has observed, Aronofsky's other films "often dwell on the idea that purity or perfection is impossible, and that the pursuit of these things is self-destructive." (Chattaway 2014). It's not hard to see how the filmmakers unpack similar themes in Noah. Noah's environmentalist perfectionism is such that he rebukes his child for picking a flower; his destructive obsession drives him to almost kill his grandchild. On a physical level the floodwaters have destroyed the world, but there is also huge destruction on an emotional level. Little wonder that the film's epilogue opens with Noah, alone, getting drunk on the beach. Years before this film was released Aronofsky described this as an indication of Noah's "survivor's guilt" (Aronofsky, 2007), but Noah is also continuing to agonise over the questions which dominated the film's third act. Was he was right or wrong to spare Ila's child? Has his 'compassion' ultimately doomed the world to be destroyed by humans all over again? How can he face his family given how close he came to committing such an horrific act? It's no coincidence that Aronofsky framing of Crowe's Noah repeatedly echoes the famous final shot of The Searchers (1956).

    It's here that his daughter-in-law Ila's words help rehabilitate Noah, in the eyes of his family, to himself, and also, to some extent, to the viewer:
    He chose you for a reason, Noah. He showed you the wickedness of man and knew you would not look away. And you saw goodness too. The choice was put in your hands because he put it there. He asked you to decide if we were worth saving. And you chose mercy. You chose love. He has given us a second chance. Be a father, be a grandfather. Help us to do better this time. Help us start again."
    On all three fronts the rehabilitation is only partly successful, such trauma is not easily overcome, but it does manage to leave the film on a positive note, whilst also challenging its audience to re-examine its own environmental credentials. This, then, is a more hopeful ending than Aronofsky's later mother! which suggests that this film's second chance, if it even is only a second chance, is doomed to fail and will ultimately lead The Creator to endlessly destroy and misguidedly restart the world again. Here though, the despair is not yet so overwhelming. Noah may have begun amidst environmental apocalypse (with an implied modern parallel), but it ends still offering us a fig leaf of hope, urging us to act before its too late.

    Aronofsky, Darren (2007). "Just Say Noah" Interviewed by Ryan Gibley for The Guardian, 27 April. Available online - https://www.theguardian.com/film/2007/apr/27/1

    Chattaway, Peter T., (2014) "Flood Theology" in Books and Culture Vol 20 No.3 (May/June 2014)
    Available online - http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2014/mayjun/flood-theology.html?paging=off

    Front Row (2014) BBC Radio 4, 4 April. Available online - https://soundcloud.com/front-row-weekly/fr-kate-winslet-richard-ayoade

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    Saturday, December 12, 2015

    Dinah and the Shechemites in Film

    Having looked at The Red Tent last month I thought I'd things off with a quick look at how different films portray the incident with Dinah, her brothers and the Shechemites. Given that it's a relatively obscure part of Genesis, it has only been covered a few times on the screen, but there are some significant variations between the four depictions with which I am familiar.

    The Bible: Genesis (1979)
    The first Bible film to cover the story of Dinah was one that pretty much had to. The New Media Bible project was meant to deliver a word for word portrayal of the whole Bible, though in the end only Genesis and Luke were covered and even then I say "pretty much" because certain parts of Genesis (e.g. the Tower of Babel) were omitted.

    At the time this film was made the broadly accepted view of what constituted rape was different than it is today. Most, now, (in the UK at least) would agree that what is sometimes called date rape fully qualifies as rape. 36 years ago when this film there was no such cultural consensus. So it's perhaps not surprising that this film depicts the rape of Dinah as being of the more violent variety. She is grabbed, out of the blue, in the town square and pulled off to a more discrete location. This is the only film that depicts the incident in quite such a black and white manner.

    In a not-dissimilar vein, it's interesting that as Dinah is "rescued" from her brothers from the smouldering ruins of Shechem, she is shoved around by them as if they are angry with her. I think this blaming of the victim seems to be something the film wants us to see and accept as offensive, though whether this is due to what they see as her complicity in her rape, or her acceptance of her subsequent marriage is unclear.

    The strangest thing about this clip is the way in which the men of Shechem are so compliant in accepting their fate. On hearing the news they simply shrug and walk off and the camera neither seems to anticipate a further reaction or find their fate shocking in any way. The scene is only a little longer than 5 minutes.

    The Bible Collection: Joseph (1995)
    The Bible Collection devotes separate films to the stories of Jacob and Joseph and, perhaps surprisingly, this episode is covered within the longer Joseph film rather than the more obvious location within her father's story. In the cultural understanding of the time, daughters were seen as the property of their father's before marriage.

    The story is given quite a more screen time here - around 15 minutes - and is set at a wedding celebration, contrasting the "right" way of doing things, rather than the way Shechem chooses to act. Dinah herself is far younger here: she's very much still a girl rather than a woman. This is a slightly tricky area. Whilst on the one hand marriage did take place at a far younger age (and of course Dinah has not yet been considered ready to be married) the Bible Collection's leading actors are consistently very much of the western contemporary world, ethnically white and of ages to match (e.g. Louise Lombard who was 29 when she played the young virginal Esther in the Bible Collection's 1999 adaptation).

    The situation is further complicated by the seemingly flirty eye contact between the obviously underage child and her rapist-in-waiting. When she is suddenly taken ill and is lead out to a back room her attacker makes his move. Whilst the scene makes it clear there was no consent, not least Dinah's screams, I find the eye contact rather troubling. I'm not convinced the film wants to rule out any blame on Dinah's part.

    When Hamor subsequently approaches Jacob the idea of these Shechemites getting circumcised is very much Jacob's idea and, again, there are more objections from the sons of Israel than from the soon to be scarred men of Shechem. They attack and give a rather clichéd war cry as they 'sneak' up to the "unsuspecting" city, but the depiction of the slaughter is not very graphic and Jacob's rebuke to his sons is no particularly powerful.

    La genèse (1999)
    The longest and most interesting portrayal of these events is from Cheick Oumar Sissoko's La Genèse (1999) which retells the story as an African tribal conflict. Like Joseph it does seem to hold Dinah partially responsible. She is depicted as a precocious flirt who, along with a couple of young boys, pushes Shechem too far.

    But the film's African perspective highlights other concepts that westerners easily overlook. For example the city dwelling Shechemites resent the nomadic Israelites and criticise thm for being rootless and without culture (all the while Dinah is being held in their city). There's also the grim image of a bloodied sheet being displayed for the waiting crowd's approval. They are made complicit in the act which somehow transforms from an ac of sexual frustration to a political act on behalf of Hamor's subjects.

    Perhaps it is a father defending his son, but initially Hamor blames Dinah for what has occurred, but then the film becomes the first to give Dinah a voice. She speaks back and rebukes Hamor and he seems to respond to her chastisement. Throughout the film Dinah is portrayed as a strong woman, unwilling to submit to what the various men and the patriarchal culture expects of her.

    When Hamor seeks out Jacob he does not do it face to face initially as Jacob remains mourning in his tent. It is left to Leah to express the family's anger, even in the face of many gifts from Hamor. The idea to tell Hamor's people to get circumcised arises only once Jacob has held a second discussion with his sons.

    But in marked contrast to 1979 version this film grimly portrays the Shechemites mass circumcising in wince inducing fashion. Firstly there is the queue of men waiting ominously (and unforgettably) for their appointment with the man with a meat cleaver and then there are the post-operation scenes of the various men hobbling around trying to minimise the pain. I highlights the link between the crowd complicity in Dinah's rape and their communal punishment. Meanwhile their womenfolk just stand by and mock them. The Hebrews mock Shechem also. "His crown has fallen and he can't bend to pick it up"

    When the slaughter does come  it is disturbingly thorough. One of the Hebrews gives pause when faced with a baby boy, but a fellow countryman insists in no uncertain terms that all the males should be killed. The only survivor is Hamor - in stark contrast to the text where he also is killed by Simeon and Levi - left to face the cruel implications of his fate: not only has he lost his son and his friends but his tribe will die out with him.

    The Red Tent (2014)
    I've expressed my views on this film already elsewhere but essentially what The Red Tent does is stress how in the cultural of the time the story occurred/was written rape was primarily about the lack of the father's consent rather than the daughter's. This is why, for example, in that rather troubling passage in Deut. 22:23-29 we find s girl potentially being given in marriage to her rapist, or even stoned, but not being punished if the "rape" happens in the country. The passage simply doesn't start from the perspective that consent is the woman's to give. So in this film Dinah is not taken against her will, but her father and brothers are incensed because Jacob has not given his consent.

    The film also has Dinah staying over at Shechem/Shalem's palace the night they have sex which hints at the importance of ancient near east hospitality codes. This further softens up the ground for the brutality of the slaughter scene which follows. It is considerably more violent than any of the previous four.

    I must admit I'm in two minds as to what I think about the way this film portrays the "rape". On the one hand it could be seen as powerfully exposing the sexism of this part of biblical culture where a woman didn't even have a right to control who had sexual access to her own body. But on the other hand it could be criticised for airbrushing or infantilising a potentially horrific event into a teenage girl's romance fantasy. The sheer brutality with which the film shows Dinah's brothers wreaking their revenge suggests the former, but even with that Shalem and Dinah's love affair still feels a bit twee.

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    Tuesday, April 18, 2017

    The Resurrection on Film
    Part 3 - Luke's Gospel

    This is the third in a series of short posts for Easter this year looking at film portrayals of the resurrection. The idea is to take each of the Gospels in turn and look at one or two films that have sought to portray the resurrection in a manner that fits with that particular Gospel. Yesterday I looked at the resurrection in Mark's Gospel and so today it's onto Luke.

    There are three Jesus films that strike me as reflecting something of the ending to Luke's Gospel. Firstly there is the recent Lumo Project version The Gospel of Luke (2016). A few of the relevant scenes from this film can be viewed online. This time the narrator is Richard E. Grant, but it's obvious that much of the footage - at least of the initial resurrection is that we find in their version of Mark (and indeed John).

    As I say in my review of Mark there's an interesting tension in this between reflecting the distinct portrait of these events that Mark provides and the purported historical events that stand behind them. But one of the disadvantages of this approach is the footage doesn't always act out clear stage directions from the text, so here there are no men in dazzling clothes and no-one puts their face to the ground.

    The Road to Emmaus scene is new though and as with other films has Jesus half covering his face to explain why Cleopas and his companion don't recognise him. This seems to me to be a rather odd approach. If Jesus meant to conceal his identity surely he could have done it more effectively: If he meant to be visible then why not make it more plain and uncover his face?  This halfway house just makes it seem like a key test of faith is the ability to recognise faces in bad light.

    The second film to mention when talking about Luke's resurrection is the Genesis Project's extended version of Luke's Gospel, from which the Jesus film (1979) was edited. This also employs the partial face covering tactic on the Road to Emmaus (pictured), but does present the other aspects more or less as directed. I don't really like the soft focus in the upper room scene though.

    Lastly, as films go, I tend to think The Miracle Maker (2000), whilst a harmonised Jesus film is a fairly Lucan take on proceedings. That said after the resurrection the script seems to switch to John as the primary source, such that there are a further 3 episodes not found in Luke. However, the shape of the narrative at this point remains Lucan with the discovery by women, Simon seeing Jesus (24:34), the appearance on the Road to Emmaus, and then just a single appearance to the disciples in the upper room. The Johanine inclusions are more flourishes within that broader narrative than the text that defines the text of the narrative.

    For whatever reason very few films feature the Road to Emmaus episode, although this has increased in recent years, but this is certainly the first film I think of when this episode comes to mind. Again we get the same tactic with face-covering. The one portrayal of this scene that does something different is the BBC's The Passion (2008) which uses a different actor in various parts of the resurrection episode - certainly a more interesting, and not necessarily a more controversial, way t solve the question of why Jesus was not recognised.

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    Sunday, December 05, 2010

    Gospel of John:1-3

    (From a series of posts looking at Visual Bible's Gospel of John)
    Having worked my way through all of Visual Bible's Matthew and half of the Genesis Project / New Media Bible's Luke the group I lead is now on to John and so I'm going to work through the Visual Bible's Gospel of John in a similar fashion.

    The first thing I notice is that John is very much a step up in terms of quality. Christopher Plummer is a better narrator than Richard Kiley, widescreen is better than 4:3 and just the quality of the filmstock and sets makes this a better viewing experience. The script is less adaptable however, and I suspect that will start to grate sooner or later.

    A couple of observations on the first couple of chapters. Firstly, John is the only gospel where Jesus isn't baptised (or at least John doesn't tell us about it), but the film puts in in anyway, as a flashback as John the Baptist is speaking.

    Secondly, the clearing of the temple scene is really good here. Whilst I'm not particularly comfortable with the idea of a Jesus quite as angry as this one (particularly as it's not really clear why) this is pretty much the only film to depict this scene plausibly in my opinion.

    Lastly, it always seems strange to me that Jesus doesn't get to deliver the immortal :) words of John 3:16. Plummer gets these, but I'd always thought (perhaps wrongly given some modern translations) that these are words spoken by Jesus rather than the author. I might have to look into that one.